Who Is Affected By IBS?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can affect people of all different ages and backgrounds. About 10 to 15 percent of people in the United States have IBS. While people in early- to mid-adulthood are the most commonly diagnosed, IBS can also impact children and older adults.1,2

Women

Women in the United States are twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with IBS. This may be related to the impact of female sex hormones on gut motility and sensitivity. Symptoms may worsen around the menstrual cycle. In addition, diagnosis is more common earlier in life when female sex hormones are at their peak.1-3

Women are also more likely to visit their doctor and talk about sensitive IBS-related symptoms than men. All of these factors may play a role in why women are diagnosed more often.1,3

Symptoms may also be different in women. Constipation and abdominal pain are more commonly reported. This leads to a higher diagnosis of IBS with constipation (IBS-C) in women.3

Women are also more likely to experience fatigue and lower quality of life due to their IBS. They also experience anxiety, stress, and depression more frequently than men. These can make IBS symptoms worse.3

Men

Men are less likely to be diagnosed with IBS than women, but it is not clear why. It may be related to:1,3

  • How often men see their doctor
  • How comfortable they are talking about symptoms
  • Sex hormone differences

Male sex hormones, like testosterone, may have a protective effect against IBS-related gut issues and pain. However, men are more likely to have diarrhea and be diagnosed with IBS with diarrhea (IBS-D) than women. Less is known about how IBS drugs affect men because fewer men participate in clinical trials than women.3

Children and teens

It is hard to estimate the true number of kids and teenagers with IBS. Some experts have suggested anywhere from 5 to 15 percent or more are impacted by IBS.4-6

Diagnosing IBS relies on a good history of symptoms. It can be hard for kids to describe what they are feeling and to notice patterns with their stools. Plus, abdominal pain can be caused by a variety of factors in kids. These include general constipation from picky eating, as well as physical symptoms due to stress or anxiety.4-6

In addition, kids are more likely to be diagnosed with IBS if they have:4,5

  • Family history of IBS
  • History of digestive tract infections
  • Mental health conditions
  • Past surgeries
  • History of child abuse

Older adults

It is rare to be first diagnosed with IBS later in life, but it can happen. Most older adults affected with IBS were diagnosed earlier in life, and their symptoms continued as they aged.3

While women are more likely to be diagnosed than men earlier in life, these differences tend to even out over time. In older adults, the number of men and women with IBS is more equal. This may be related to declining sex hormones in both groups.3

All drugs, including IBS drugs, can impact older adults differently. There may be added side effects or additional drug interactions to consider.7

Older adults are also at risk for other serious gut-related issues. For example, colon cancer is more common in older adults. If you are older and have new intestinal symptoms, your doctor may evaluate you for a wide range of things before diagnosing IBS.7

People with chronic health conditions

It is not uncommon for IBS to occur alongside other health conditions. Some of these are related to stress or pain, such as fibromyalgia or chronic pelvic pain.3,8

Sometimes, IBS and endometriosis can occur together. Mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression are also common with IBS, especially in women.3,8

The reasons these conditions might occur together are not well understood. Your doctor can help determine if your symptoms are due to IBS or another underlying issue.

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Written by: Casey Hribar | Last reviewed: September 2021